Monthly Archives: May 2014

CV Essentials

1202 - Bad Job Interview

Hello, dear reader.  How are you?

Have you ever looked at your own CV and thought “who the hell is this?”  Our CV-selves are not us.  They are more smug, they exaggerate their importance in previous job roles, and they are way too hung up on when exactly they got their Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award.

The problem is that CVs don’t say much about who we really are.  For instance, my GCSE in Photography does not indicate anything about my pathological fear of being late for things, and the latter of those two definitely informs more of my identity.

Even when we are allowed to reveal something about who we are, such as when we are asked to list our strengths and weaknesses, we are obliged to transform our real characteristics into meek-faced, employable ones.  For example: your actual weaknesses may be drinking milk out of the bottle and stalking your ex on Facebook.  In a job interview, you would demurely confide that you might sometimes be a bit too much of a perfectionist about work tasks.

So what should actually go on our CVs?  Which facts and figures can we use to truly represent who we are?  I have a few ideas of things that would say a lot about us as real people:

  • Stories from friends – what do your friends say about you?  When they bring you up in conversation, which anecdote would they tell first?  My friends would probably go for “the time Vicki locked herself in her own porch”, which I’m sure speaks volumes about my grasp on life.
  • Speciality dish – what’s your favourite thing to cook?  Is it a big dish that serves lots of people, or a snazzy starter that requires obscure spices?  Where did you learn how to make it?  Did your grandmother teach you?  Is it a recipe you picked up while travelling abroad?
  • Emergency – never mind that “tell us about a time you had to solve a problem at work” stuff – how do you actually respond to emergency situations?  That’s your instincts taking over, which say a heck of a lot about you.
  • Childhood character – who did you play in your primary school Nativity? No, seriously, think about it: everyone knows a pretty, popular girl who played Mary, a mild-mannered ex-Shepherd and a seriously disgruntled Third Guest at the Inn who feels overlooked in life.  (I was a Narrator.  That makes sense, right?  I do like to describe stuff.)
  • Conflict – again, not in a serious “how would you resolve a dispute with a colleague?” way, but in day-to-day life.  Are you prone to bickering with your partner?  Do you lose your temper when a friend tells you that you’re wrong?  Do you bury your head in the sand and refuse to confront an issue?
  • Strength and weakness – what are your actual, truthful, honest-to-goodness strengths and weaknesses?  Are you a Candy Crush addict?  Do your friends usually turn to you in a crisis?  Have you ever cheated on someone?  Do you tend to make newcomers feel welcome in social situations?  Are you one of those appalling people who doesn’t put their hand in front of their mouth when they cough?

Our CVs encourage us to present a modified version of who we are in order to be employable entities.  Of course we should present ourselves in the best possible light to the world, but I think that the real people are far more fun and interesting than their class of university degree.

Have a magical Friday.  If anyone finds Narnia, give me a shout.

10 Things All Theatre Types Do

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Hello, you lovely thing.  How’s this week treating you so far?

Firstly, I should apologise for the fact that I might not have time to blog every day for the next few weeks.  I’ve just started working on a kids’ show in Greenwich, and I will essentially be eating, sleeping and breathing children’s theatre for a while.  I will do my best to keep up with you lovely people, but please do bear with me if I don’t quite manage it.

Today’s blog is (predictably) a theatre-based list of stuff that happens to everyone when they start working on a new show, particularly in a front of house capacity:

1) You work out very quickly who is going to make you laugh during the nightmare shifts – look out for the people who tend to mutter witticisms under their breath during briefings and people who are good at pulling silly faces.

2) You remember how much fun it is to use radios – you’re basically getting paid to play with walkie talkies.

3) You make a new best friend – in my case, one of my fellow supervisors has already “claimed” me as his latest fag hag.  I feel so honoured.

4) You end up working with someone you already know – I love this about theatre.  Nine times out of ten, we end up reconnecting with a friend or ex-colleague in a wholly unexpected context, and that really helps us to relax into new working situations.

5) You find a fittie – don’t look at me like that.  Everyone does this.  We’re not proud of it, but we all like to work out as early as possible whether there’s going to be anyone in our team who is nice to look at.  Just look at, mind.  We’re professionals, after all.

6) You know the show off by heart within two shifts.

7) You are insanely bored of the show within three shifts.

8) You passionately hate the show within three and a half shifts.

9) You find and immediately set up camp in the nearest decent pub.

10) Cheesy as it sounds, you fall in love with theatre all over again.

Right, I’m off to Greenwich to bring joy to hundreds of children.  You have yourself the most enjoyable Thursday of every Thursday ever.

A Realistic Romance Recipe

One Day - Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess

Hello and happy Wednesday!  You’re looking lovely today, if I may say so.

Not for the first time, my inspiration for a blog post has come from an episode of How I Met Your Mother.  If you’re not a fan, don’t worry – I’m only using a tiny snippet.  Two of the characters are discussing what it takes to make a relationship materialise, and one of them claims that chemistry is the key ingredient, and that “if you have chemistry, you only need one other thing: timing, but timing’s a bitch.”

Chemistry between two people is obviously very important in romantic situations, and timing is clearly essential (and also a bit of a bitch).  But relationships are very rarely that simple, and I think we need a few more bits and pieces to make the blasted things work:

Referees

As in people who provide references, not the football people.  I’m not suggesting that we turn the pursuit of a relationship into some kind of emotional job hunt, but it can be much easier to let your guard down with someone if a mutual friend will vouch for their behaviour.  Lots of people meet their significant others through friends or family, and I think that they start relationships with a very clear advantage.  If you meet someone in a bar and they make a great first impression then that’s lovely, but it’s a massive bonus if someone you trust can tell you for certain that this person has no criminal record, is good with kids and usually remembers to return phone calls.

Confidence

As Dexter says to Emma in One Day, “You’re gorgeous, you old hag, and if I could give you just one gift ever for the rest of your life it would be this: confidence. It would be the gift of confidence. Either that or a scented candle.”  Confidence covers all sorts of things, including the belief that you are a lovable person, the ability to look (and more importantly feel) good in your own clothes, and the willingness to start a conversation.  You might have unbelievably strong chemistry with someone and the timing may be perfect, but if all you can do is mumble into your shoes then your would-be romance will go nowhere incredibly rapidly.

Communication

This one is the most difficult (especially for us Brits), and annoyingly it is also the most important.  Nothing will work between two people unless they communicate.  (I’m starting to feel uncomfortable even typing this bit, to be honest.)  We don’t like talking about our feelings, do we?  Oh, sure, over a drink with our friends or in a post-break up rant, absolutely.  But with the person we want to go out with?  Good heavens, no.  It can’t be done!  We’re supposed to tell each other where we stand, how we feel and make sure that no one is being led on or getting confused?  What a ridiculous notion.

Communication issues are the reason that Jane Austen novels are longer than two pages, why Bridget Jones takes so long to get Mark Darcy, and they make up the basic plot line of every rom-com film ever made.  If the characters told each other the truth earlier on in these stories, they would be happier much sooner.  Sure, the films would be rubbish and the books would be abysmal, but you are not a character in a story.  You’re a real person, and no one is going to write your happy ending unless you flipping get on with it.

Besides, you deserve to be happy.  You’re a legend.

Have a superb Wednesday.

The Smaug Complex

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Good morning, dear reader.  How’s your Tuesday so far?

Today I’d like to talk about hoarding.  It’s on my mind because I’m visiting my parents today, where all the childhood things are.  All five of us kids insist that we don’t have that much stuff here, and that we’ve moved most of our possessions into our grown-up homes.  We have not.  We own a lot of tat, and a good chunk of it is being hoarded here.

There are many types of hoarding, and the one that my siblings and I are guilty of is downplayed hoarding: we are actually holding on to all sorts of books, toys and knick knacks accumulated over years of childhood, but we deliberately downplay it to ourselves because throwing our Year 2 exercise books away is harder than we thought it would be.  I don’t know why exactly (Year 2 was not all that, let’s be honest), but it is.

One of my best friends has a garage which she uses for storing all manner of things, including some practical items like furniture that she’s going to put on eBay.  So far so sensible.  Until a couple of months ago, she was also using it to store pretty much every item of clothing she’s owned since she was sixteen, and a veritable avalanche of shoes.  (She also had my A Level Philosophy & Ethics folder and text book in there, which was a pleasant surprise.)

Her hoarding type is cover-all-bases hoarding: you never know when you might need a dress you wore to your Year 11 prom.  I’m being a bit flippant about it, but her hoarding drive comes from a very good place: she likes to be prepared, and being the lovely person that she is, she wouldn’t want to get rid of something that might be of use to someone one day.  Having said that, she and I spent a day clearing out her garage a couple of months ago, and like a hero she willingly sacrificed a lot of her old shoes to the charity shop gods.

Every hoarder is different, and the drive to keep hold of stuff can come from all sorts of areas of our lives.  We might be prone to nostalgia, or be afraid of letting things go.  We might just like having lots of bits and pieces to decorate our homes.  Whatever our reasoning, I think that hoarding can actually be a good thing.  Not in itself necessarily, but because letting go of something when you’re ready can be incredibly cathartic.

Unless of course you’re an angry, thieving dragon who is sitting on a bunch of dwarf gold.  Have a stupendous Tuesday.

Jeremy Bentham Could Do With A Hug

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Hello and welcome to this year’s gazillionth bank holiday Monday!  I hope that you’ve got some lovely activities planned.

Altruism is a very tricky business, and lots of people don’t really believe that it exists.  The philosopher Jeremy Bentham argued that humans exist to maximise their own pleasure and minimise their own pain, and that supposedly selfless acts are nothing more than our attempts to feel good via other people’s gratitude, social status, smugness, etc.  (Does anyone else get the feeling that poor Jeremy hasn’t had a lot of love?  Someone give him a cuddle.)

Bentham’s bleak assertion may not sit well with some of us, but it actually taps into something that we’ve all experienced in some way.  We all know the phrase “nice guys finish last”, and that’s a pretty fair summary of how we feel about unrewarded kindness: it’s not fair, and if it’s not fair, why should we bother?

Firstly, life is not fair, and we already know that.  We’re working within an unfair system where hard work is not always rewarded with promotion, love is not always requited and people don’t always say thank you when you hold a door open for them.  Therefore, choosing how to treat others based on what’s ‘fair’ is arbitrary and a bit useless, and deciding whether or not to perform a selfless act based on the injustice of the world is ridiculous.  “I will not help that small child get safely out of the path of that speeding car, because last week a child just like him bashed into my knees at the supermarket.  Fair’s fair.”  Fair is stupid, so forget about it.

Secondly, if you’re that fussed about getting rewarded in the first place, then you’re not being altruistic.  That’s not a criticism of you personally, by the way: after all, who doesn’t like to be rewarded?  Altruism is essentially being kind, generous etc. without any notion of reward: a truly altruistic act is performed by someone who does not even think about the pay off, let alone seek it.  This is sometimes difficult to imagine, and it can get very complicated when we have the best of intentions: making some we love feel better when they’re sad isn’t even altruistic, because their happiness makes us feel happy, because we love them.  Aren’t we selfish gits?

So it may not be real selflessness, and it may be that altruism doesn’t exist at all, but being kind and generous without requiring anything in return is very important.  This is partly because we all have systems of morals, and the one thing that just about every religion in the world can agree on is that being kind to people is important, but also because it means that we can be proud of who we are and how we behave.

Let’s be honest: showing someone love, kindness, sympathy and support can be very demanding, and if the gesture is either refused or ignored we end up feeling foolish.  I don’t know about you, but one thing I hate is being made to feel like an idiot (largely because I can do it just fine by myself without any help from others, thank you).  But showing someone love does not make you an idiot: it makes them the idiot if they don’t appreciate it.  And why would you want gratitude from an idiot?

If you’re still feeling a bit under-appreciated, I could always make you some biscuits.  How’s that?

Have a spectacular Monday.

Weird Wisdom

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Good morning, dear reader!  How are you doing?

Our lives are filled with wise and wonderful (and slightly weird) people.  My favourite thing about my weird/wise friends is the bizarrely pithy stuff they come out with from time to time, and today I would like to share a few of those with you.

My friend Lauren and I are very similar, particularly in terms of how much we worry about things (i.e. way too much).  She and I both have an unfortunate tendency to over-think stuff, which is both bad and good: bad because it takes up quite a lot of our time, but good because we never have to explain ourselves to each other.  Recently we were having a long, involved and fairly over-thought conversation about stuff we’ve said that we wish we could take back, and the idea that you can ruin a lovely situation by saying something prattish.  Lauren came out with this nugget of wisdom: “You can’t say something irreparable to the right person.” It’s true that we all say things from time to time that we wish we hadn’t, but Lauren is absolutely right: if someone really loves you and understands you, you can always fix whatever silly thing you’ve said.  If they won’t let you fix it, they’re probably not a keeper.

Another friend of mine has an incredibly scary, fraught and high-pressure job, and it is still a wonder to me that she doesn’t spend all of her free time drinking wine, muttering and rocking back and forth in a corner.  She is actually a very upbeat and lovely human being who is always up for new experiences, which produces very mixed results.  (For example, she’s just gone camping for a week, and I’m not convinced that she will have packed anything except coffee and sandals.)  I love that my friend is so good at seizing life’s opportunities, but I love this statement of hers even more: “I should really Google things before I agree to them.”  Shouldn’t we all?  Life is for living, but with a due sense of caution and a clear understanding of what the plan is.

Last but by no means least, one of my favourite things about living with a close friend is that we have learned to appreciate (or at least tolerate) all sorts of weird behaviour from one another.  We reached a pinnacle of love and friendship fairly recently when Ash gave me this (sort-of) compliment: “I really enjoy how sometimes you sound like a Greek man.”  I wasn’t aware that I did, but if I do, I’m glad that my best friend enjoys it.  It’s very important to surround yourself with people who enjoy the weird things about you.

Speaking of which, two of my friends stayed over last night, so I should probably go and offer them beverages.  Have a miraculous Sunday.  Surprise someone with a romantic gesture or something.

Home Alone 6: Lost in North London

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Good morning, fabulous reader!  Did you know that, according to Wikipedia, there have been five Home Alone films?  (I had to look it up in order to make sure that this post’s title was accurate.)  Crazy, isn’t it?  I know.  We should watch them all at some point.

This weekend my darling flat mate has (foolishly) left me home alone, and I would like to share some of the main reasons why, at the grand old age of twenty-five, I should probably have been left in the care of a babysitter, social worker or similar:

  • Memory issues: as discussed in previous blog posts, I have the memory of a senile goldfish who’s recently sustained a concussion.  When I left the house yesterday afternoon, I automatically left the living room light on in order to bamboozle potential burglars.  (That’s right: bamboozle.  That’s how I roll.)  When I got home later that evening, I saw the living room light on and thought “ooh, Ash is home!”  She was not.  Which leads me on to my next problem:
  • Intelligent conversation: when I thought that Ash was home, I wandered up the stairs calling out greetings, gossip about my day and general musings.  It took me – I kid you not – it took me at least five minutes to realise that no response was forthcoming, because I was alone in the house.  Did that stop me from talking?  Did it heck.  Talking to ourselves is one of the greatest joys in life, and if our own psyches start to get annoying, there’s always the furniture to chat with.
  • Misadventures: the guy who lives downstairs from us is a lovely old chap by day, but he is inordinately fond of playing loud music and drunkenly shouting at himself very late at night (or very, very early in the morning).  If Ash is not here to stop me (or at least calm me down slightly), there is a very strong chance that I will lose my temper and throw something through his living room window.
  • Sleepless in Southgate: I haven’t been sleeping very well for a couple of weeks.  My friends have had to become accustomed to me zoning out of conversations, being unable to think of words, having no spatial awareness etc.  Without Ash in the house this weekend I am basically helpless.  It sounds silly, but if you’d seen me try to work out how to change the channel on the television a few minutes ago, you would understand the need for caution.  (Seven attempts to hit the Sky button.  It’s just not cool.)

With a due sense of dread and fear, I’m going to go and try to make coffee.  Have a tremendous Saturday, you lovely person.

Are You What You Want to Be?

Hello!  How are you this morning?  Yeah, me too.  Nearly the weekend, though.

Today I would like to ask you a question: are you what you want to be?  There are three possible ways to think about this question.

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Firstly, in physical terms: are you fit and healthy?  Do you like your hair colour?  Are you happy with your height and weight?  If you can honestly say that you are what you want to be in terms of your physical appearance, then good for you.  I think your pants might be on fire, though.
No one is ever totally happy with how they look, which is a massive shame (and almost entirely a result of the Western media), but I have good news regarding this.  Firstly, there are things we can change if we really want to: we can dye our hair, we can take up exercise and we can drink more water.  The second piece of good news is that how you look does not make you who you are, so let’s not worry about that.

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The next way to think about my question is in terms of achievement: are you in the right job for you?  Is your career progressing the way you hoped it would?  Do you feel that you’ve achieved significant things?
This one is tricky because it’s something that we decide by comparing ourselves to our peers, and that only ever ends in smugness or despair.  Once we leave school, the structure that kept us all on the same trajectory as our class mates is non-existent, and what happens to one of you no longer necessarily happens to everyone else.  Don’t waste time being jealous of other people’s success, or feeling superior about your own: just get on with what you want to be achieving.
This one is slightly more important than the physical one, but it’s still not the key way to answer my question.

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So, the third and most important way to answer my question: are you what you want to be in terms of personal attributes?  Are you kind, are you patient, are you polite?  Would your mother be proud of you?  What do your friends say about you?
I am not suggesting that the way other people see us is more important than how we see ourselves, but after all, the people who love us aren’t sticking around because of how we look or what our job is, are they?  (They’d better not be, anyway.)
This one is the hardest of all to change if we don’t like what we’ve got, but it can be done.  If you want to be less prone to losing your temper you have to practise staying calm under pressure; if you want to be more assertive then you have to speak up when you’re intimidated.  The best thing about this one is that it tends to be the one that your friends and loved ones are most willing to help you with, so you’re not alone with it.

Have a truly cracking Friday.  Definitely treat yourself to a muffin today.

P.S. The title of this blog is a reference to this song by Foster the People.  Good, ain’t it?

Bookworm Woes

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Good morning, and welcome to what I hope will be the most marvellous Thursday of your life so far!

Today I would like to talk about a subject very close to my heart: reading.  Specifically, reading in public.  Here are some of the most irritating and troublesome aspects of being a public bookworm:

  • Who are you looking at?  Sometimes when you’ve been reading for a while, you look up from the page to go over a moment in your head or work something out about the storyline.  If you are sitting in public and you look up to make accidental eye contact with a stranger, they tend to look a bit confused.  Unfortunately, it’s not socially acceptable to say “I’m not looking at you, I’m reading.  Go back to your life.”
  • Unnecessary baggage: If you’re about to leave the house and you’ve only got a few pages left in a book, you have to take a spare one with you, don’t you?  It doesn’t really matter where we’re going:  we must always, always have a good chunk of book available to read.  If this means that we sometimes end up taking large handbags to nightclubs, so be it.
  • Anti-social issues: When meeting friends, we tend to arrive a bit early so that we can get some extra reading in.  Woe betide the friend who turns up in the middle of a chapter, and God help the poor soul who arrives expecting conversation from us when we’ve only got two pages of a thriller novel left.
  • What the heck is going on?  This one is especially true if you’re on public transport: reading can be an all-consuming activity, and if you’re not careful you can miss your bus stop without even noticing.  If you’re sitting on a park bench it can start to get dark or rain without you realising, and in some cases it takes physical prodding from a loved one to bring you back to reality.
  • I’m not crazy; I’m a bookworm.  Sometimes you are reading a book that is so surprising and engaging that you genuinely have to react verbally (potentially by swearing), or so funny that you laugh out loud.  Apparently in public situations this kind of behaviour is a little disconcerting for strangers.  Well, strangers, you’ll just have to deal with it.  I’m reading an awesome story over here.

Well, I’m off to finish The Subtle Knife.  Have a glorious day.

 

Unsplit Personalities

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Good morning!  It’s Noel Fielding’s birthday today, did you know?  On the very small off-chance that he reads this: Happy Birthday, Noel!

Over the past few days I’ve been thinking about personalities, and how very complicated they are.  We have a tendency to separate out different sections of our personalities, because we think that certain bits are anomalous to who we are, and some parts are just plain embarrassing.  It is too difficult and confusing to admit that our bad habits and secret sins are linked to our genes, our upbringings or our life styles.  Much easier to have a persona that can be summed up in three words by the people who know us best, and leave it at that.

We are encouraged to keep up this pretence of simplicity by constantly summarising and censoring ourselves: job applications, CVs, online dating profiles, Twitter biographies and more ask us to reduce ourselves into a few short sentences, and we willingly oblige.  We know that we’re complicated, but we don’t everyone else to know that.

The thing is that every aspect of your personality is linked to something else about you, and that is a really good thing.  Take the anomalies, for instance: I like watching football, which seems a bit random in terms of my other interests, but actually it does make sense.  I like watching events with a large group of people (like when I go to the theatre), I like lots of noise (because I grew up in a big family) and I like having a pint with my friends (that’s just a given).  So even though I’m not a stereotypical football fan, it makes sense for me to like football once you break it down.

When we think of certain personality aspects as anomalous we don’t embrace them for what they are: an important part of what makes us a complete person.  This comes up a lot with mental health issues.  People call depression “the black dog”, which I think is really stupid for two reasons: firstly, making the illness a separate, animalistic entity encourages people to be afraid of it and distance themselves from the issue, and secondly it kind of ruins the third Harry Potter book if you have that association in mind.

I’m not suggesting that mental health problems are a good thing (obviously), but if you have to live with them you shouldn’t have to be afraid of them, as well.  They are part of who you are, but they don’t define you.  There’s plenty of awesomeness in your personality, too, and they’re not necessarily separate qualities.  For example, living with something like depression can give you strength you never knew you had.

Everyone has aspects of their personalities that they wish they could change or get rid of, but you are who you are.  If we refuse to accept the bad things about our psyches as well as the good, we are rejecting a massive proportion of what makes us a real human being.  Think about it: if we didn’t all have bad and good things about us, we would be completely angelic and therefore entirely incapable of empathy.  We’d also be kind of boring.  And you, my friend, are definitely not boring.

Have a stupendous Wednesday.